You may have heard that swaddling can be an effective method of helping your baby sleep, so you may be wondering how to swaddle a baby. Swaddling is a practice that’s been carried out for thousands of years and can be beneficial for your baby.
However, it’s important you carry out the correct technique when swaddling your baby, otherwise it can be dangerous
We speak to Alison Scott-Wright, baby consultant at Tinies and author of The Sensational Baby Sleep Plan, to learn how to swaddle your baby safely, as well as get answers to all your swaddling questions.
What is swaddling?
Swaddling is a traditional technique, wrapping your baby in a light, breathable blanket. Not only does it help keep baby feeling safe and warm, swaddling can prevent their tiny arms and legs flailing about during sleep which can trigger their startle reflex (also known as the Moro reflex), potentially causing them to wake.
‘Wrapping your baby in a swaddle mimics the feeling of security he felt when in the womb and can really help when settling a new baby,’ says Alison. ‘However, even in the womb, babies can move and turn so it's important that the swaddle isn’t too tight or restrictive as this could cause problems within the hip joints.’
The best material to use for a swaddle is 100% jersey cotton as the natural elasticity in this material allows your baby to move, flex and stretch. ‘You can buy ready-made swaddles, and most of them are made in this jersey fabric and are quite simple to use,’ says Alison.
Related: The cutest baby swaddle blankets
What are the benefits of swaddling?
A lot of parents find that swaddling works for them and their baby, however experts are still unsure whether the benefits of swaddling are scientifically accurate. It’s that swaddling may:
• Help settle your baby for sleep
• Help your baby sleep longer
• Can help prevent your baby being woken by the ‘startle reflex’
• Can make your newborn feel safe and secure, by mimicking the snuggly environment of the uterus
How to swaddle your baby safely: Step by step guide
• Step 1: Lay out your swaddle
Lay out the swaddle on a flat surface and place your baby on his back, with the top hem of the swaddle under the back of his neck. If you don’t have a special swaddle, fold the cloth into a large triangle, with the point of the triangle facing towards you.
• Step 2: Position your baby
‘Fold his arms across his chest and NEVER swaddle with arms down by his sides,’ says Alison. ‘This is far too restricting and could be dangerous. Make sure his legs are also slightly bent at the hips in a ‘frog’ position and leave the material loose enough so that he can move them to prevent hip dysplasia.
• Step 3: Wrap up your baby
With your left hand, hold his arms in place whilst reaching across with your right hand to pull over the left side of the swaddle over baby's left arm and chest. As you pull it over, cover his hands with the hem of the swaddle going right up under the chin. Keep the swaddle taut and bring it over his left side and shoulder and tuck it round, under his back.
• Step 4: Tuck in the bottom
Flip the material at the bottom of the swaddle up and over the feet, tucking the loose ends around the back of the legs,’ says Alison. Make sure his legs are slightly bent at the hips in a ‘frog’ position and leave the material loose enough so that he can move them to prevent hip dysplasia.
• Step 5: Secure the swaddle
Now with your left hand, pull over the right side of the swaddle over baby's right arm and chest and tuck under the right side.
• Step 6: Final check
Just check the swaddle isn’t too tight and that your baby’s legs can wriggle freely.
Is it safe to swaddle your baby?
Yes, it can be a great technique to help your baby sleep and keep them calm, when done correctly. However if swaddling is done incorrectly it can be dangerous and lead to:
• Hip dysplasia - when your baby’s hip joint doesn’t form properly and is caused by excessive tight swaddling that restricts their leg movement. This is why you should always make sure your baby’s legs can move freely, once you’ve swaddled them.
• Overheating - swaddling your baby too tightly or in a thick blanket could cause this. Check your baby is at a good temperature for sleeping before swaddling them. Signs that your baby may be too hot include flushed skin or cheeks that feel hot and sweaty or damp skin and hair.
The Lullaby Trust don’t advise for or against swaddling, but they do urge parents to follow some simple guidelines:
• Swaddle using thin materials.
• Do not swaddle above baby’s shoulders.
• Do not swaddle too tight.
• Always put a swaddled baby to sleep on their back and never on their front or side.
• Regularly monitor baby’s temperature to ensure they do not get too hot.
• Use a think muslim or cotton sheet to swaddle your baby and don't put additional bedding on top of them (could cause them to overheat)
Can you breastfeed a swaddled baby?
This is not recommended. Your baby gets hot while breastfeeding, therefore doing this while they are swaddled could lead to them overheating. Also, as swaddling restricts your baby’s movement, it can prevent them being able to get into a comfortable breastfeeding position.
How long should babies be swaddled for?
You can start swaddling your baby as soon as they’re born. It’s important to stop swaddling though once your baby shows signs of trying to roll over.
Does swaddling prevent SIDS?
Experts still aren't 100 per cent sure on this, however this can be determined by your baby's age. Swaddling will make it difficult for your baby to roll over in the first few months, helping them stay on their back and in turn reducing the risk of SIDS. However, once your baby has mastered the roll over, it can have the opposite effect. As their arms are restrained from the swaddling, it more difficult for them to move their heads if they roll over onto their tummy, increasing the risk of suffocation.
It's therefore important you stop swaddling your baby once they show signs of rolling over.